Mixed Bag

It is with great pleasure that I write this from the second nation of my tour; Thailand. My journey across Malaysia and over the border was fairly uneventful and involved little riding as I opted to ferry it up along the coast between the islands of Palau Penang and Langkawi. It was at Penang that I decided to cycle to the biggest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, Kek Lok Si. Unfortunately for me, the Buddhists seem to love to worship atop mountains. Halfway up, body sweating, legs tiring, a Chinese guy on a scooter pulls alongside me and says, “Nice motorbike………but no motor” and on he rode.



When I eventually reached the temple, I was buggered, but more than that, I was amazed. Spread out over a huge area and with stunning views were several prayer halls including an impressive main hall and the beautifully crafted Pagoda of 10,000 Buddha’s, the top of which could be reached to give a view of the entire temple, the farmed hills above and the city below. Even higher up, standing atop the hill overlooking the temple and in a way, the entire island, was a huge 30m high statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Magnificent.

Thus far, Thailand has been somewhat of a mixed bag for me. The people have been fantastic, but the weather has made for several of the toughest days of the tour.

It was previously difficult for me to comment on the Malaysian people as I had little means of comparison. I can now say that while extremely friendly and polite, they were quite reserved and intimidated by the language barrier making it hard to form a connection with them. The Thais on the other hand are extremely open and more than willing to make the effort to have a chat, even though the language barrier is even bigger. As a result, my grasp of the Thai language is advancing rapidly. It is also critical because I can’t read anything in this country!

In my first 48 hours here, I was given a police escort to a guest house, an old guy doubled me on his scooter to a restaurant when I asked him if he knew of anywhere to eat, a group of people invited me to have breakfast with them and then proceeded to pay for me as a ‘welcome to Thailand’ gift and a lady offered to give me a lift to the top of a hill, or at least that’s what I think she was saying. Just the other day while riding, a man and his daughter pulled me over to the side of the road in their scooter/fruit wagon and gave me about 2kgs worth of fruit.

It’s these kinds of acts of hospitality and generosity, always accompanied by a great smile, that has given the Thais their reputation and it never fails to lift my spirits and give me a smile of my own.

I said however that Thailand has been a mixed bag; the wonderful nature of its people has been countered by the gruelling nature of its weather. While Malaysia was very dry making for clean cruisy riding, Thailand currently has downpours daily. Every afternoon the skies open up without fail.

On one particular day not long after I entered the country, it felt as though I had been chasing this storm all afternoon as I would periodically ride for a little only to have to pull over and take refuge from the rain with all of the scooters. After doing this 4-5 times and being only 8kms from my destination, when it began to rain again, I thought ‘bugger it’ and decided to ride through it since everything at this point was soaked anyway.

That’s when Thailand went torrential on my ass.

God-sized bucket after bucket was poured over me and the road. I powered on for a little while, laughing at Mother Nature as I went. However, she is not one to be mocked and continued the onslaught mercilessly. Once it passed the point of ridiculous, I pulled over.

With only 5kms to go to a dry room, shower (albeit a cold one), warm clothes and a beer, once the rain has subsided slightly, I decided to continue on and soon found myself stopped at a set of traffic lights.

The best thing about traffic lights in Asia is that all of the scooters, and myself of course, move to the front of the pack of cars and on green, we all hit it and with motors rattling all around me, for a few brief moments I feel as though I’m in a bikie gang.

So we all took off and as per usual, as the scooters passed me they cheered me on shouted encouragement, in this instance even more wildly as it was still raining pretty heavily. My eyes momentarily left the road ahead to acknowledge a group of cheers to my right. This would prove costly for as I turned back I found that a scooter carrying 2 girls had pulled in front of me to make a left-hand turn. In the wet and amongst a swarm of scooters, I had nowhere to go except straight into the back of her.

As a lay sprawled on the road, in the rain and with scooters still whizzing by me, I looked up to see an old guy standing under a nearby shelter, grinning from ear to ear, giving me the thumbs-up. I wanted to return the gesture using a different finger but instead, despite the situation, I smiled back, I couldn’t help it.

I wheeled my bike to the said shelter. Fortunately the girls and their scooter were ok and the King Brown and I had escaped with only a puncture and a sore toe. After a quick tube change, I tentatively rode the final 5kms to the refuge of a guest house, thus ending the toughest day of the tour.

However, the story does not end there for as we all know, nature relies on equilibrium. When checking in for the night I’d decided to spend the extra 40 Baht ($1.50) for a room with cable TV because I was hanging out to lay back, beer in hand and get my Western culture fix with a movie in English. However, I soon found that all of the movies were either dubbed in Thai or were Star Trek. Disappointed, at 11:30 I decided to go for one more surf of the 60+ channels before turning in for the night.

And that’s when it happened. That’s when I found my holy grail of TV viewing; Swans Vs West Coast!!! 15 minutes into the first quarter! In Ben Cousins’ return match! I can’t describe the joy I felt.

That joy subsided somewhat as Cousins got 28 disposals and led the Eagles to victory, but I can’t complain. The circle was complete, equilibrium had been achieved.

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